Friday, July 8, 2011

Poetry at Bread Loaf

Speaking with poet John Ashbery after his reading
I am back at the Bread Loaf School of English near Middlebury, Vermont for the summer. In anticipation of the journalistic writing I will be doing this fall, I decided to dedicate myself to creative writing endeavors and, therefore, signed up for a poetry workshop. This was a brave decision because I haven't studied poetry since high school and and have no experience trying to pen it. 

Last week, poet John Ashbery came to Bread Loaf to do a reading. I had studied his poem "They Knew What They Wanted" that very day in class. It was a treat to hear him read it a few hours later. Inspired by his reading, I poured myself in the next assignment.

The assignment was to write a poem about something difficult to say. Here is was I said.

Poem About Why I Got Drunk and Ate Too Many Scallops Last Christmas Eve
Each year my family assembles for 
the Feast of the Seven Fishes. All of us,
spend the day chopping garlic and parsley and 
slicing lemons. There’s no fresh fish in Iowa,
so it sits on the counter thawing into a white, wet
In the early evening, my father throws clams into 
the marinara. The scallops are seared in butter, the shrimp
steamed. We girls go to our rooms and put on satin
vintage dresses bought in Madison, New York, St. Louis, and
Amsterdam, especially for this. We paint our faces like
porcelain dolls and tie our hair back.
Then the candles are lit and we take our seats at the table
my grandfather made. He’s been dead five years. We suck
shrimp from their tails, squeak on calamari salad and 
sop oil with bread. We bury each other’s voices.
We crunch on sardine bones, and 
my head floats on wine.   
My father’s eye sockets go dark and
my mother pushes her mandible back where it belongs.
My baby sister’s alabaster skull is still a lovely 
round shape. Even in bone, she’s
beautiful.  We eat air 
and from time to time a fork slips 
from skinless fingers. 
I can’t see. 
I can’t laugh. 
I rattle.
I paint my joke into a calavera in exchange for
eyes and skin. I know it’s coming but please
not yet.
Who will go first? Perhaps I will. Then again, 
sometimes the sickest have the most preparation for 
living. Better to have dressed up bones than an 
empty seat. I’d even be grateful for a lump of coal.
Better to have another helping 
and too much wine.